Thursday, July 12, 2007

Show and Tell: How Writing College Essays Is Similar to Kindergarten

In Kindergarten, you would bring in your pet turtle to show the class. You would describe where you found the turtle and what its name was. You would describe the markings on its back, what it eats, how long you’ve had it, and what it does all day. You would describe every detail of your turtle because you were proud to be showing it off to all of your snot-nosed classmates. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your writing now?

I’ve read a ton of papers that have little or no detail. I’d say about 75% of the papers that I read would be much better if the student showed me what they were talking about rather than simply telling me. Leaving me with vague details is like going to the Grand Canyon with a blindfold over my eyes. You can tell me that it’s a “big hole in the ground”, but unless you show me, I won’t be able to fully grasp what it is. I need more details than that and so does your reader.

For example, I was going over an essay with a student the other day where she mentioned three times that she was once a “rebellious teenager”, but not once did she show me why she was rebellious. It didn’t leave me satiated and I was confused as to what she meant. Did she not want to do her homework? Did she run away from home? Was she in a gang? Did she smoke cigarettes in the girl’s room? Her essay was very compelling, but she just “told” me without “showing” me.

You can’t expect your reader to get the full picture without drawing the picture in their head first. Try to clue your reader into what you’re saying by showing them as much detail as possible rather than just telling them something vague and unclear.

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